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Officials Recount Plane Crash Rescue Efforts; President-elect Obama Justifies Further Bailout Spending; Sundance Filmmakers Seek Buyers

Aired January 16, 2009 - 08:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up on 58 minutes after the hour, a look at the top stories this morning.
Crippled US Airways Flight 1549 is still in the Hudson River tied to a pier. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating whether it was a flock of birds that brought it down. They plan to interview the pilot and co-pilot if they retrieve the plane's black box today. All 155 people on board that flight survived.

And this morning the pilot who made the split-second decision to land the plane in the water is being hailed as a hero. Chesley Sullenberger is a 29-year veteran of US Airways. Yesterday New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and passengers offered up high praise.


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK: But it would appear that the pilot did a masterful job of landing the plane in the river, and then making sure that everybody got out. I had a long conversation with the pilot. He walked the plane twice after everybody else was off and tried to verify that there was nobody else on board, and assures us there were not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It seems like everyone made it out all right. We hit the water pretty hard but kudos to the pilot. He did a hell of a job. He saved my life! So I'm happy and thankful to him!


CHETRY: During last night, in his farewell address, President Bush echoed the praise saying he was inspired by the skill and heroism of the flight crew.

This morning, Bank of America reports it lost nearly $2.5 billion in the fourth quarter of 2008. For the year the company made $4 billion. Meantime, Bank of America is getting additional $20 billion from the government's financial rescue fund to help offset losses related to its purchase of Merrill Lynch. Bank of America already received $25 billion in TARP money.

And with just a few days until he takes office, President-Elect Barack Obama told "The Washington Post" why he ordered the second round of TARP funds, for what he calls the, quote, "rickety nature of our financial system".


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice over): The credit markets are still very weak; that banks now are fully caught up in a downward spiral, where they have now affected the real economy, the real economy is now affecting their balance sheets. And so we're going to have to intelligently and strategically infuse some additional capital into the financial system. That's why I requested the triggering of the second round of TARP.


CHETRY: In February, Obama said he'll hold a fiscal responsibility summit to hear from a variety of voices in order to solve the long-term problem facing the economy.

And returning to our breaking news this morning. Investigators from the NTSB arriving in Lower Manhattan to begin the investigation into what brought down US Airways Flight 1549. There's exclusive video from ...

And returning to our breaking news this morning, investigators from the NTSB are arriving in Lower Manhattan to begin the investigation into what brought down U.S. Airways Flight 1549. There's exclusive video from New York 1, showing the plane as it was beginning to descend toward the Hudson River. Thousands of New Yorkers watched this plane flying too low and quickly dialed 911 as it crashed into the icy waters, sending emergency crews into action.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a U.S. Airways jet in the water, approximately a 60 passenger jet. Also at this time, we have numerous people on the wings of the airplane, and like I said we got about four or five Circle Line boats around the plane at this time. (INAUDIBLE) units are jumping on Circle Line boats and heading out to the incident. Copy?


CHETRY: And this morning, the 155 people on board that flight are, no doubt, reflecting on the magnitude of what happened yesterday.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would say I don't than what the survival rate is of plane crashes, but I can't imagine it's too high. And then for everyone to get off that plane and no one dying, that was -- that pilot, as far as I'm concerned, probably saved us all. If you want to talk to a hero, get a hold of him, because that's the hero in this whole deal.


CHETRY: CNN's Jason Carroll is following the latest developments in this incredible story live in Lower Manhattan for us. And, you know, even as we've had an evening and a morning to reflect, it just seems all the more miraculous, given how many people on board, the weather and everything else involved.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think, Kiran, miraculous is a perfect way to describe it. You can see a portion of the plane that's still sticking out from the Hudson River. I had an opportunity this morning to speak to a representative from the NTSB, who told me that their focus today is to interview that heroic pilot, to talk to the crew, to try to recover the cockpit voice recorder, as well as the data recorder.

But one part of this investigation is already clear. The pilot did an amazing job.


CARROLL (voice-over): Some stood huddled on the wings of the plane. Others waited for rescue in lifeboats. This is what U.S. Airways Flight 1549 looked like just moments after it crashed-landed into the Hudson River's icy waters.

JEFF KOLODJAY, PASSENGER: It was pretty scary, man. Like I thought he was going to say circle back to LaGuardia, because I've flown out of LaGuardia a lot, and I know you can come around this way and circle in to that runway over there. And he goes, "Just brace for impact."

CARROLL: According to passengers, the flight took off without incident from LaGuardia Airport at 3:26 p.m. About three minutes later, while flying over New York City, an alarming noise, apparently from one of the Airbus 320's twin engines.

FRED BERRETTA, PASSENGER: I heard the left engine make a very loud noise. I was actually sitting in a position where I could see the engine.

CARROLL: The pilot, C.B. Sullenberger, radios air traffic control, saying the U.S. Air jet had just experienced a bird's air strike. He considers diverting to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey nearby, but he is out of time to land and heads towards the Hudson River.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of a sudden, the captain came on and said, "Embrace for impact." And that's when he knew we were going down and it seemed like into the water.

CARROLL: It was 3:31 p.m., about five minutes after takeoff. Passengers say few panicked. They calmly got out.

KOLODJAY: I'm not going to try to sound like a big guy, but, you know, it was my priority to make sure that women and children got out first. So, after that, we all did.

CARROLL: Commercial ferries aided emergency rescue boats.



CARROLL: All those on board survived.

BLOOMBERG: This pilot did a wonderful job and it would appear that all roughly 155, including crew and one infant, got out safely.

CARROLL: The pilot credited for saving their lives and averting a disaster, a miracle to the survivors.

BERRETTA: I thank you, thank you, thank you.


CARROLL: About a dozen passengers were taken to area hospitals with minor cases of hypothermia, a few minor injuries. Other than that, Kiran, everyone turned out OK. Truly incredible.

CHETRY: It is. And they are giving a lot of kudos and basically crediting this pilot with saving their lives this morning. Thanks so much, Jason.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, while many on board the flight suffered minor injuries like hypothermia, as Jason said, bumps and some bruises, each and every passenger was exposed to serious mental trauma.

CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is in Atlanta. And, earlier, we heard from Alberto Panero, one of the survivors on board 1549. And he said, you know, I'm feeling a lot differently about it this morning than I was at the time. I was pumped up by adrenaline. I was kind of giddy and now, I'm thinking, "Oh, my God, how close to death did we really come?"

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it was really hearing him involved because I was hearing him talked last night and heard you asked him this morning, "Have your feelings evolved about this?" You know, being irritable, starting to have a little bit of realization of how close you were, having difficulty sleeping -- these are normal symptoms of anyone who's had some sort of traumatic experience like this.

The real concern and the reason they had behavior and wellness experts on those piers, the reason there is care team from U.S. Airways offering counseling to these patients and their families is to try and prevent them from developing PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. That's where things continue to get worse, instead of getting better, John.

So, you know, these sorts of symptoms that they have now should start to subside, but if they continue to get worse and if they persist for weeks and weeks, that is PTSD, and that is something they are trying to avoid. Fear of flying is a major phobia for a lot of people. So, to watch what happened here, for the people on the plane and people watching, was one of these worst nightmares realized. And now, the goal for these interventionalists is try to prevent people from having long-term symptoms.

ROBERTS: What was pretty extraordinary, Sanjay, is that yesterday, after the crash, a lot of these victims went back to LaGuardia Airport, got on another plane and flew to their destination. There were a number of people who said, "I think I'll wait for a just little while." But that initial inclination to be able to get on a plane and go to your destination -- is that, again, part of this idea of you're not really realizing what happened? Could a fear of flying evolve over days and weeks?

GUPTA: Yes, it could. And a lot of people may not recognize that they're having that fear until days or weeks from now. So, but, you know, the flip side of that -- and a lot of psychologists were talking about this -- is, one of the treatments to try and avoid PTSD is what they called immersion therapy. So, actually, immersing someone back into whatever was inciting trauma in the first place -- obviously, in safe way.

They even have clinics where they put on these goggles and sort of put you back on a plane virtually to see how you do. A lot of people are doing it for real. That is a form of immersion therapy. And that is, you know, a relatively safe form of counseling, in a way, according to a lot of psychologists.

ROBERTS: I'll tell you one thing, though, each and every one of those people on board the plane has got to feel particularly blessed today that they survived that crash.

GUPTA: Yes. I think we, as journalists, this is one of those heartwarming stories to hear this, and I feel really good about it.

ROBERTS: Finally, some good news in a major news story.


ROBERTS: All right. Sanjay, thanks so much.

GUPTA: Thanks, John.

CHETRY: Well, after the terror of the descent, the plane crash victims had their next goal (ph) was getting out of the river. And the scuba divers who went through icy waters to rescue them join us here live. We're going to see who they saved and how they were able to do it.

And suddenly, the term "bird strike" is being heard everywhere. What does this plane crash mean that we should worry every time we see a flock of birds at an airport? What a bird strike hazard expert says today. Forty-eight minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: Welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning." As we now, bird strikes are a growing hazard for airlines. Take a look at one video that we found on YouTube. It's a small plane's close call with one big bird. A warning that some of these images may be disturbing.


ROBERTS: A sickening thud and an impact that almost took the wing off. And it's not only a civilian problem.

Joining us now from Atlanta is Ron Merritt. He is with the Air Force for 23 years, part of a program called BASH, the Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard Program.

Ron, thanks for being with us this morning. How rare or how common are bird strikes in American aviation?

RON MERRITT, BIRD STRIKE SAFETY EXPERT: Bird strikes are fairly common. They happen probably every day. Serious bird strikes that cause damage to aircraft or loss to aircraft are much rare, obviously.


MERRITT: But it's a daily event.

ROBERTS: And how rare is it that a bird strike would take out both engines on an aircraft?

MERRITT: Well, that's extremely rare. Having a bird hit an engine is not that uncommon, but having it hit two engines especially when they are on opposite side of the fuselage is very rare. You have to hit a large flock of birds to have that happened.

ROBERTS: Now, we know these engines are big and they are strong and they are resilient, but they are also very finally balanced to extraordinary tolerances. What size of object hitting the turbines of a jet engine will, you know, I guess, set it off-balance and almost make it tear itself apart?

MERRITT: Yes, that's a good question and, sometimes, we find it fairly small birds can do that kind of damage, depending on the engine itself. The newer generation engines are designed to ingest birds up to two pounds and lose some power but then cycle back up. Anything four pounds or greater, the engines are particularly designed to contain the damage inside the engine cowling. When you get beyond four pounds, now we're talking about damage that could, you know, take the engine actually off the wing possibly.

So, you know, while we're all excited and happy that the air crew did their job, we should also thank Rolls Royce and the engineers who built a really tough engine.

ROBERTS: Yes. Well, you know, these Canadian geese, they are big birds. They weigh anywhere between eight and 20 pounds. So, you can imagine the impact of one of those hitting an engine. Is there anything that can be put on the aircraft to protect against bird strikes?

MERRITT: As far as we know, not. Back when I was in the Air Force, we looked at whether or not radar systems on the aircraft themselves would cause birds to move away, flashing lights. And it seems that there's no data that support the fact that, you know, birds are being dissuaded by radar or anything on the aircraft itself. In fact, these new engines are quieter and that makes, you know, the environment much more conducive to bird strikes.

ROBERTS: And there's no way to design, say, something like a nose cone that could go in front of the engine to deflect the bird if it were to try to hit -- you know, if it were to strike the engine?

MERRITT: That's been a topic for discussion over the years. And can you put a screen or whatever. And with the energy impacts that these birds are putting on the engine, you basically would knock the nose cone into the engine, you knock the screen into the engine, and the air flow into the engine has to be just right to make sure that it's not disrupted. So, right now, there is no technology for that.

ROBERTS: So, what's going on in American aviation to try to minimize the number of bird strikes?

MERRITT: Well, I think, we've done a pretty good job on the airport, managing wild live habitat, and getting crews out to disperse birds and manage, you know, community planning issues around the airport. The technology that we've been working on the last five years or so is actually to develop radar systems that you put on the airport itself that will watch birds moving across the air field environment, across traffic patterns as a basis for an advisory.

The data from this radar, also, can be archives and reviewed for trends to see whether or not this is an event that occurs daily. For instance, at LaGuardia, do birds move across the area every morning, every evening? Was this a happenstance or a circumstance?

ROBERTS: Yes. Well, maybe happenstance. Ron Merritt, thanks for being with us this morning. Good to talk to you.

MERRITT: Thank you. Appreciate it.

CHETRY: Well, after seeing what the passengers of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 lived through, how would you handle an emergency like that? We're going to show you everything you need to know to get out of a plane crash alive. It's 15 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Would you know what to do in a crucial moment after a crash-landing? Many airline passengers ignore the safety announcements before a flight takes off. So, are we missing potentially life-saving information?

Our Deborah Feyerick is here to tell us how to survive.

And you actually lived through this assimilation at least? DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. You know, I think part of it is that everybody is so comfortable flying right now that we take basic things for granted. But -- for example, me, no matter how often I fly, I always look at the safety card before takeoff. I check under my seat to make sure there is a life vest.

I always count the rows to see exactly where I'm sitting, because the closest row maybe behind or in front. You have to know that. But these are small things that can make a big difference as we learned in this drill.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The captain has just informed that we have an engine fire. And on this side of the aircraft, we're going to return back to the field and land, and evacuate through the main cabin door when we come to a complete stop.

FEYERICK (voice-over): Everyone is quite as the flight attendant tells us what's happening and what we need to do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Put your seatbelt on nice and tight, very, very snug against your hips.

BLAIN STANLEY, EVACUATION EXPERT: Pandemonium and chaos and mayhem s not the norm per se. People look for direction. They get quiet. They look at the crew members and they want to be led.

FEYERICK: The pilot keeps talking to the flight attendant; the flight attendance keeps talking to us. Evacuation expert Blaine Stanley who's running the drill says communication is critical.

STANLEY: Without the communication, nobody has a plan to follow. You all need to be reading off the exact same sheet of music in order to be able to be successful in evacuating.

FEYERICK: Tracy Gross, our flight attendant, shows me how to open the emergency exit.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Repeat it back to me.

FEYERICK (on camera): I remove the cushions and take the panel off and I pull the handle and do leg body leg.

(voice-over): It's important that all bags be kept away tightly.

STANLEY: That laptop bag weighing in at eight, 10, 12 pounds, in a crash when you're pulling nine, 10, 12, 14 G's, turns into a gigantic catapult that will take your head off.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You, too, all way over, grab your arms in the backside of your legs. Do it quick.

FEYERICK: We get ready for impact.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. Everybody brace! Brace! Hold tight!

FEYERICK: The next drill deals with smoke. That, and fire, are the two things many pilots and crew members fear most.

STANLEY: Most people, who are alive when the airplane comes to a stop but end up dead, die because of smoke inhalation. They are consumed by the smoke and fire because the evacuation does not proceed rapidly enough.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everything goes (ph) to exit.

FEYERICK: It's important to know exactly where the closest exit is. The smoke is blinding.

On commercial planes, equipped with emergency chutes, you can't just sit and slide. You have to run and jump says flight attendant Denise Gubin (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a time factor. You have to be able to exit an aircraft within 90 seconds.

FEYERICK: With the water landing, it's important not to inflate your vest until after you're out of the aircraft.

STANLEY: Once you get that vest on, and you inflate it fully, it blows up to about twice your normal body size up front. Now, as you move towards the exit, if the exit is too small, you can't fit through.

FEYERICK: As for us, on our smoky plane ...

ANNOUNCER: Ten seconds, 10 seconds!


FEYERICK: As our plane crashes, we climb out the window, hearts racing, even though it's just a drill.


FEYERICK: And, again, even though that was a simulation, your adrenaline really kicks in because your one thought is get out as fast as you can and look for any opening. It may not be a door, it may be a gash in the side of the plane.

You know, in the U.S. Airways flight, a lady with a baby was crawling over the seats, in some cases, you may have to have enough trust to hand your child to a stranger outside of the plane. But it's all about moving fast and staying calm. And as you saw at the beginning of the piece, Kiran, she said it's on the left side of the plane.

So, again you really got to be figuring if it's on the left side of the plane, where is the door? Where am I going to exit? If we roll over -- all of these things go into how do I get out?

CHETRY: It's amazing.


CHETRY: And one of the passengers who helped that woman with the baby was saying that he sort of help guide her and making sure she made it on to a raft. Because, can you imagine, I mean, trying to keeping yourself above water, let alone an infant.

FEYERICK: Well, you have two kids. I mean, imagine the kind of panic, because, what do you do? How are you -- lucky there's only one child on that plane.

CHETRY: Yes. It's why I don't fly with them.


CHETRY: Scared enough just for myself. Deb, thanks.

FEYERICK: All right.

ROBERTS: Well, coming up next, we're taking you inside the aircraft as it sunk. What a scuba rescue diver who risked his life to make sure everyone made it out alive. We got that story straight ahead for you. Twenty-two and a half after the hour.



GOV. DAVID PATERSON, NEW YORK: There is a heroic pilot who saved himself and approximately 154 other passengers this afternoon. We've had a miracle on 34th Street, and I believe now, we've had a miracle on the Hudson.


ROBERTS: Well, it's 26 minutes after the hour. And here are this morning's top stories.

The National Transportation Safety Board is beginning its investigation into the emergency landing of a U.S. Airways jet in New York's Hudson River. Investigators say their goals for today include interviewing the pilot and cabin crew, and retrieving the flight data and flight voice recorders, the so-called "black boxes." Early indications point to birds causing engine failure.


KITTY HIGGINS, NTSB: We have heard those reports and we will be talking again to the crews today to understand what they saw, and also to air traffic, because they have information as well that will be very useful to determine whether, in fact, that was part of what happened here.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROBERTS: Remarkably, all 155 people aboard the plane survived with mostly minor injuries reported. Some people were suffering from hypothermia.

When he takes office, President-elect Barack Obama will face two wars and a crisis in the Middle East, and although he will not talk about details, Obama did give us a glimpse unto how his administration will handle foreign affairs while speaking with the "Washington Post."


OBAMA: We have to end an approach that sees all the various problems in the Middle East as discrete, you know, so that we've got an Afghanistan policy and we've got a Pakistan policy and Pakistan and Afghanistan policies aren't integrated. I think one of the principles that we'll be operating under is the notion that these are very much related and that if we've got an integrated approach, we're going to be more effective.


ROBERTS: As for his picket for secretary of state, Obama said Hillary Clinton has a, quote, "extraordinary grasp of foreign policy" and that she operates with great precision and personal discipline.

President Bush says he has made some tough decisions over his presidency but has always done what he thought was right for the country. In a farewell address to the nation last night, the president reminded Americans that there has not been a terrorist attack on U.S. soil in more than seven years. Mr. Bush also offered support to the incoming president.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Five days from now, the world will witness the vitality of the American democracy. In a tradition dating back to our founding, the presidency will pass to a successor chosen by you, the American people. Standing on the steps of the Capitol will be a man whose history reflects the enduring promise of our land. This is a moment of hope and pride for our whole nation. And I join all Americans in offering best wishes to President-elect Obama, his wife Michelle and their two beautiful girls.


ROBERTS: Well, have you stuck your nose outside yet today? Much of the eastern half of the country is bracing for a brutally, cold day, the coldest in more than a decade in some places. Midwest saw some record lows yesterday, including 47 below zero in Pollock, South Dakota. Forecasters say some of the areas in the Northeast will not climb above zero this weekend.

CHETRY: Well, back to our breaking news.

The 155 passengers and crew members who survived the plane crash have all sorts of rescuers to thank from the crews to the local commuter ferries to the Coast Guard, and New York City police and fire departments. And detectives Michael Delaney and Robert Rodriguez at NYPD harbor unit searched the plane and went inside the cabin looking for victims and also, helping to get others out of the icy waters.

You guys, certainly, are heroes in all of this, too. So, hats off to you. Thanks for being with us.



CHETRY: So, first of all -- Michael, as I understand it, you were in the actual -- you were the one with the full scuba gear on. So, you were in the actual plane. What was that like?

DELANEY: Well, at first, you know, we need to make an assessment before we went inside the plane, to make sure it was a bit stable before we entered. And as I entered in, I went into the middle aisle, went in about 15 feet, didn't see anybody, and Mike made the call from the outside. And he noticed that the water was rising above the head rests and he made the call for me to come back out. It's the safest thing to do at that point.

CHETRY: And this type of situation, I mean, you have to assess things moment by moment and as you're seeing it. What were you guys prepared to do at the time when you got there on the scene?

RODRIGUEZ: When we originally got the call, we didn't know that the scene was going to be this large. We were expecting a small biplane, something like that. And when we showed up, you immediately assess the situation and you start changing the game plan. When we pulled up on the scene, the NYPD aviation unit did a great job putting us in a perfect position. We saw one victim in the water.

CHETRY: You mean the perfect position from your helicopter?

RODRIGUEZ: Exactly. We saw one victim in the water that we needed to get to and the aviation pilots put us in a position where we were out of way of the ferryboats and the other rescue boats and we had a direct line right to the victim. So we deployed out of the helicopter at that time.

CHETRY: I still marvel at the fact that everybody else wants to get out of the situation and you guys are willingly jumping in, too. There were people there that were unable to move right, because of the hypothermia and the frigid waters had set in. How were you rescuing these people? Tell us a little bit about that.

DET. MICHAEL DELANEY, NYPD HARBOR SCUBA: They're scared, obviously. You know, the cold water is making them lethargic and not able to swim very well after a short period of time. So they basically are helpless. When we got there, the first victim was extremely happy and glad that we were there.

CHETRY: When you're under water, it's pretty much dark, right? How are you determining who is in there? How are you able to see who is in the plane?

DELANEY: Well, we have a lot of training in the bodies of water that we work in and the nature of the bodies of water in New York are basically pitch black type diving and we train for feeling. We don't rely on sight. We do a lot of our diving based on just feel.

CHETRY: Were you guys scared yesterday?

RODRIGUEZ: I really don't think that we had that opportunity to be scared at the time. We were -- we looked at the situation at that point. People needed help and that was the job that needed to be done. We didn't have time to be scared at the time.

CHETRY: Also, Michael, were you getting at least any type of information that the pilot had walked through a couple times, he pretty much figured there was no one there? Do you know what you're getting into when you were in that plane?

DELANEY: Well, there were several agencies there, city agencies, brother agencies, our ESU guys were there. Emergency service unit guys from the NYPD were there in and out. There were some FDNY people there as well. When we arrived, we just kind of complemented the rescue effort.

CHETRY: It's amazing when you look at the video to see all of the boats that were there and you guys were landing in the helicopters. So much was going on at once. The fact that it was so orderly. I think that's one thing that a lot of people just really still marvel at.

RODRIGUEZ: It was. One thing that I was very surprised out there, there was a few people that were in distress that needed help. After we assisted them, it was very calm. It was a calm scene. There were people there on life rafts and they were just waiting for their turn to get off the life raft and on to either the ferryboats or the fire boat or the police boat that was out there at the time.

CHETRY: One e-mailer wrote, were there any pets in the cargo hold? Do you guys worry about that? Is that the type of information or anything you guys know about when you're on the scene?

DELANEY: Well, certainly we've had jobs where we've gone in the water for animals, dogs. We've even, I think, rescued a rare bird once before I came on to the team. So, you know, if there's something that needs to be saved, whether it's human or not, we'll get in the water and do it.

CHETRY: It's great. You guys are certainly quite heroic in all of this. What a happy ending and really they are calling it miracle on the Hudson. I think it's a pretty apt thing to call it today. Thanks so much for being with us. Detective Michael Delaney and Detective Robert Rodriguez with the NYPD harbor SCUBA team, thanks.

RODRIGUEZ: Thank you very much.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: Well, he thought it was going to be a slow news day and it was up until that point. The big city newspaper photographer who was one of the very first on the scene of the plane crash is with us live to share his photographs.

The war, economy, health care, education, your safety. They all may be tied together. And they are all officially on Barack Obama's plate in four days. Our expert panel breaks down Obama's top five challenges. 34 minutes now after the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the most politics in the morning. All this week, we've been counting down the top five challenges facing Barack Obama as he takes office January 20th. Here is a look at number five, managing military conflicts and crises across the globe, including the conflict in the Middle East.

At number four, it was fixing America's education system, overcrowded, under funded schools. And number three, keeping America safe from terror attacks. Number two is health care bringing down skyrocketing costs and getting more Americans insured.

And today we reveal the number one challenge facing Barack Obama as takes over as the 44th president of the United States and that of course, the economy. So Barack Obama has promised to bring change to Washington. Can he? We bring in today's panel, Republican strategist and CNN contributor Ed Rollins as well as "Time" magazine's political correspondent Karen Tumulty and CNN special correspondent Frank Sesno. I knew you guys would all appear. Otherwise I'd be talking to myself. Let me start with you Karen, what is change? Are we talking about just a change from the Bush administration or are we talking about a change from politics as usual in Washington?

KAREN TUMULTY, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESP., "TIME": Well, you know, on the campaign trail, I had a chance to hear Barack Obama take a lot about change. And when he would talk about it, he was really framing it in two different ways. One is that he would talk about how politics is broken so it was really a change in the process and how we make decisions and how we attempt to get things done in Washington. But, obviously, change has also got to be change in some policies, both overseas and domestically. People don't have health care. If they don't have health care two years from now, I mean, that is really the way change is going to be measured.

CHETRY: Ed, I want to ask you about this because there was a lot of hope and idealism surrounding Obama's campaign, of course, wanting somebody who wanted to do things differently, somebody who saw the Washington system as a little jaded. Then we're looking at familiar faces from the Clinton administration surrounding him now. Rahm Emanuel, Leon Panetta, Eric Holder to name a few. How does that jibe with the notion of change?

ED ROLLINS, FMR. HUCKABEE CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: He obviously sets the tone. The biggest part with change is new people coming to new jobs and there is a new energy. Even though Rahm has been around for a while he is now going to be chief of staff of the White House. Some of the people who have been in Treasury before are going to come back with new assignments. The agencies in the government and the personnel that's there all the time, the professionals all of a sudden there is a new leadership and people are given new energy and that is very important. The policies obviously change over time. But at the end of the day, it starts with the boss. And Barack Obama is going to basically be a very exciting and so for the next six, eight months, it's a learning process. Equally as important there is a new energy that comes to the new people.

CHETRY: Frank, is it naive of us to think that you can sweep in and things will change overnight in places where change comes very hard and slowly like Washington?

FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well it's naive to think that the policies are going to change overnight, but it's not naive to think that some things in fact are going to change overnight. The tone's going to change overnight. The faces are going to change overnight. When he comes in, there's a government that says we've got a big agenda and a lot we want to do. We want to change Social Security. We want to change Medicare. We're going to change - you heard that sound bite a little while ago that you played and the whole way we look at the Middle East. So the outlook, the voice, the kind of positioning, the energy level, that does change overnight.

If he is going to do these things though, some of things he's got to change is he's got to change the way the White House and Congress work together and he is going to have to change the way the public gets involved and he wants to do that right through the Internet and the television camera getting them part of this so he can change the way special interests have blocked things in the past. So, yeah, change.

TUMULTY: Ironically enough, so much of the theme of this transition has been continuity, a seamlessness to the handoff of power from one administration to the other. Because the fact is, we live in such a dangerous time again domestically with the economy and overseas that this really does have to -- change has to mesh with continuity.

SESNO: It may be but it's like shifting the gears on your car. You put the clutch in so you go from fourth to fifth or into overdrive or whatever you're going to do without slamming the gears but you move and you change the way you're going. I don't think there's any question that his direction and orientation on these issues is dramatically different in most cases, not all but in most cases from the Bush administration.

CHETRY: Ed, what about some of the clean breaks that we're seeing Obama talk about wanting to do, policies like closing Gitmo, engaging Iran, new regulation on interrogation techniques. Those seem like they're not the easiest tasks to overhaul.

ROLLINS: No, but they will happen. I think the key thing here is that this administration is going out of office is very tired and the country is tired of them. And I think, to a certain extent, he brings this new, fresh energy as I said, new people that are coming is going to make a difference. And I think you set up your agenda. These are the 10 things I want to get done in the first 100 days. A lot of it obviously is sharing power with the new Congress. But I expect a whole new excitement and a whole new energy and hopefully he doesn't get bogged down in the next two years. They've two wars obviously to finish and a financial crisis and the rest it of it. But I think you'll see very exciting times.

SESNO: I think there's something else that does change quickly. Ed, you know this because you were there inside the administration. You saw it. A new president comes in and one thing that changes is the relationships and the personal dynamics, whether it's with other leaders around the world or with major players here in Washington. And those personal relationships can make a very dig difference in the way things get done in the overall tone of things. So, yeah, while the change and the result isn't overnight, getting there can happen very quickly or at least can start.

CHETRY: And finally, thoughts from Karen?

TUMULTY: Well, I do think, again, the first thing that has to change is the tone and the way business is done in Washington. And I think that structural changes, that policy changes will follow that.

CHETRY: Ed, do you think that the Republicans are going to be on board for that?

ROLLINS: Republicans aren't going to be a factor for a period of time. This is going to be a Democrat administration, Democrat Congress. It's now their turn to run with the ball. Republicans are going to have to be kind of a loyal opposition and that is a new role for them.

CHETRY: All right. Although he was having a big meeting with a lot of the conservative columnists. That was an interesting notion as well. I want to thank you all of you guys, Ed Rollins, Karen Tumulty and Frank Sesno, thanks.

TUMULTY: Thank you.

ROBERTS: A CNN exclusive tonight at 6:00 Eastern. Barack Obama sitting down with John King just days before he becomes president. That's Barack Obama, not John King. 6:00 p.m. on "The Situation Room" tonight here on CNN.

And even though Barack Obama is not sworn in until Tuesday, CNN's coverage of his inauguration begins on Saturday morning as we travel along with the Obama express. The historic train ride from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C.. Every stop, every speech along the way, beginning this Saturday morning at 10:00 Eastern.

And don't forget, AMERICAN MORNING's coverage of the inauguration starts early Monday morning at 5:00 a.m. Eastern live from Washington. Got your longjohns?

CHETRY: I'm going to go buy some.

ROBERTS: I got mine yesterday. How does it feel to capture the amazing shots of what's being called the miracle on the Hudson? One of the first photographers on the scene of the plane crash is with us live. It's 43 1/2 minutes after the hour.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was pretty scary, man. Like I thought he was going to say circle back to LaGuardia. I've flown out of LaGuardia a lot. I knew you can come around this way and circle in on that runway over there. He goes, "Just brace for impact."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After watching the plane we saw it descend. It was quickly over the Hudson and it touched down almost parallel to our office building so we were able to see everything and immediately, a coworker tried to call 911. Obviously, the phones were tied up and we were unable to get through. All we could do was watch in awe and concern the whole time. Rescue crews were quite impressive. They were there. The ferries were there within seconds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of our feet were pretty much in the water. It was quite cold and you know, we were worried about the folks that had gone in the water first to try to think of a way to get them out in light of the fact that at that particular moment, the boats hadn't arrived yet. We were just hoping that the boats would get there quickly and they did. It was amazing. It just seemed like a few moments and the boats came.

Avoiding birds has always been an issue in the vicinity of airports and at lower altitudes for aircraft of any size and with a little bit of research, you can go back in the history books and find there have been several aircraft accidents and substantial bird strike damages caused to aircraft by birds of all sizes. But the larger the bird, obviously, the bigger the potential for extreme damage to the point that a power plant, an aircraft engine, is unable to continue delivering power. And this is, obviously, a multi-engine aircraft. It's got two engines. If it were to lose just one, it should still be perfectly flyable, but when you get into a scenario where a large flock of birds and, like I said, it's still very early days yet after the accident itself, but there's certainly a strong potential for a large flock of geese or large birds to be involved around airports in the vicinity of water.


ROBERTS: We got so many dramatic iReports. CNN viewers who are eyewitness to the amazing scene. Our next guest knows a little bit about that. John Roca is a veteran photographer with the New York "Daily News." He was one of the first people on scene to capture the crash on camera and he joins us now. Good morning, John.

JOHN ROCA, NEW YORK "DAILY NEWS": Good morning. Thank you.

ROBERTS: So you were clear across town. You were over near the Israel consulate and thought maybe a demonstration was going to breaking out there. It's 3:30 in the afternoon. What happened?

ROCA: I was pulling radio car duty, my New York "Daily News" 12:00 noon to 8:00 at night. And a scanner started chirping about a plane down on the west river.


ROCA: Shortly thereafter, my photo assignment editor, Joe Barefoot, called me, says did you hear that call? I said yes I did. I'm starting to roll on it. Another police report came in saying it was possibly a movie being filmed and then...

ROBERTS: So you got there what, 12 to 15 minutes after the crash?

ROCA: Yeah, getting through the traffic, yeah.

ROBERTS: What was the first thing that you saw and what was the first thing that went through your mind?

ROCA: Once I saw emergency vehicles passing me and then they confirmed the assignment, they called a level one -- a level one mobilization. I said this is the real thing. And I pulled up to the world yachts and the aircraft had been drifting south. So I kind of timed it and went up on an observation deck and with a long lens, about 2200 millimeters, I started shooting and I was shocked what I saw. The plane was still buoyant and afloat and people were clinging on to wings.

ROBERTS: That was the most surprising thing to me when I heard about it was that the plane was completely intact and people were out there standing on the wing. You've covered plane crashes before.

ROCA: I have, tragically, yes I have.

ROBERTS: The outcomes of those and I guess the most recent one was the one that dropped down on Long Island.

ROCA: Yes. I covered that crash about eight miles off the end of where my weekend home is and I spent that whole night on my boat with my neighbor, Lou Bingle (ph), and it was tragic to see burned victims, traumatic amputation. It's the kind of assignments that invade your sleep at night.

ROBERTS: And you're a private pilot as well?

ROCA: Yes.

ROBERTS: Small one-engine aircraft, though you do have a multi- engine rating. As a private pilot, when you saw that plane fully intact on the river and extraordinarily miraculous landing what did you think?

ROCA: I was pleasantly shocked and I was pleasantly shocked to see the condition of the people that were being brought off were in very good condition. Some of them were wet and cold. But it was just a miracle, you know, like our governor said.

ROBERTS: Tell me about some of the things that you saw through your lens here as we're playing your pictures.

ROCA: This was from that observation deck, people clinging with their Mae Wests on. They are in the process of being rescued.

ROBERTS: Mae West is the life jackets?

ROCA: The life jackets, yes. These are some of the victims that were brought off by fire rescue one. And the other --

ROBERTS: Did you talk to any of these people?

ROCA: I did not, no. This is all long lens.

ROBERTS: What was the general demeanor?

ROCA: They were really in good shape. As I said, I was very happy to see. This man was shivering even with the blankets around him. The emergency service police were --

ROBERTS: You can imagine, it was -- the air was about 21 degrees, the water just slightly above freezing. Obviously it wasn't freezing because -- there is quite a strong current running through there as well so it's got to be really cold to freeze.

ROCA: Life expectancy is only eight minutes in water that cold.

ROBERTS: Right. So for these people to even be in the water as long as they were, some of them and survive, I saw one guy yesterday. He was soaked from the waist down wearing a T-shirt! I guess the adrenaline was pumping so much that he didn't even know if he was cold or maybe he wasn't cold until somebody finally threw a wrap around the poor guy. In all your time here in New York City, how would you describe what you saw yesterday?

My thoughts about it were, you know, finally a major news event that actually was good news and it's kind of the sort of thing that the city really needed. If there was to be a large emergency event, thank God it turned out like this.

ROCA: This was the best of the best. This was New York's finest, New York's bravest and every person who is not a hero became heroes today. Those folks on the water taxis and the tug boats and everyone who came and assisted, dropped what they were doing and they were there to help.

ROBERTS: And even some the passengers themselves. Alberto Panero who joined us this morning. He was on the aircraft. He graduates medical school in May and he used some of his new training to help people out. The woman had a deep gash in her leg. He put a tourniquet around it, helped her out, so everybody pitched in, even the passengers.

ROCA: It was fantastic and I was glad to be a small part of it. ROBERTS: John, thanks very much.

ROCA: Thanks for having me.

ROBERTS: Good to see you.

CHETRY: Wait until you hear who has agreed to play Barack Obama in a movie about his life. But the actor says he wouldn't want to be Obama for real. We'll tell you why. It's 15 minutes after the hour.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The engine blew about three minutes into the flight. Smoke came out everywhere. A couple minutes later, the captain came on. He said we're going to dump this plane. Brace for impact and probably brace pretty hard and that's what we did. And kudos to him, man. He did a great job! We dumped it and the plane started filling with water really quick, and everyone was just super cool. And --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How did you get out?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By the luck of God.


CHETRY: Those are iReports of passengers. They were standing on the wings of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 moments after it made an emergency landing into New York's Hudson River. The twin-jet airbus now tied up and floating alongside a pier in lower Manhattan. NTSB is going to be there a little later to check it out.

Right now we're coming up on 55 minutes after the hour. Time to fast forward to see what stories will be making news later today. As I was just saying, a team of NTSB investigators will start the probe into what caused that U.S. Airways plane to lose both engines and crash land into the Hudson River. Officials plan to talk to the pilot and the crew and also to retrieve the plane's black boxes.

Eric Holder's confirmation hearings resuming today on Capitol Hill. He is Barack Obama's pick for attorney general and he faced tough questions from Republican senators yesterday, specifically about helping fugitive Mark Rich win a pardon from President Clinton despite FBI objections. Holder served in the Clinton Justice Department.

And President-elect Barack Obama will be in Ohio today touring a green energy plant, also making a speech on the economy. Then he heads to Philadelphia. He is going to be spending the night there in preparation for his train trip that will take him to Washington for the inauguration. John?

ROBERTS: And of course, as we said, we'll have full coverage of that Saturday morning here on CNN. This morning, the Sundance film festival is under way. For some people it's about the movies. For others, it's about the parties. But at its core, Sundance is the chance for independent filmmakers to attract buyers. But today's economic is making that sales pitch especially difficult. Here is CNN's Ted Rowlands.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The economy is, obviously, a concern for people in just about every industry, including independent filmmakers here at Sundance.


(voice-over): Outside the filmmaker office at Sundance, Emily Abt talks about "Toe to Toe," her film about an interracial friendship between two high school girls.

EMILY ABT, FILMMAKER: I spent a lot of time building this film and I think it's very powerful. And I'm hoping that we do get a deal so that as many people can see it as possible.

ROWLANDS: Abt is hoping to cash in here by finding a buyer willing to gamble on her movie. For the past two decades, Sundance has help launched a steady stream of films from relative obscurity to the mainstream. This year, however, along Park City's main street, the early buzz is about the economy and the fear that film buyers may be cutting back. Organizers say there's a noticeable scaling back of the lavish giveaways and extravagant parties planned for this year's festival. Still, Sundance creator Robert Redford says he is optimistic for filmmakers.

ROBERT REDFORD, SUNDANCE FOUNDER: I don't think they have to be afraid. I have a hunch that this is going to be a good time for them this year. There will always be a need for new voices, new ideas and that is what the festival is all about. So I'm optimistic about it.

ROWLANDS: Emily Abt says she has already talked to a few potential buyers who she hopes will like her film and will spend the money to buy it.

ABT: It's going to be very interesting to see, but I'm really optimistic that there is still going to be a lot of deals here this year, so fingers crossed.


ROWLAND: And with more than 100 other filmmakers in the same boat, a lot of people have their fingers crossed this week. John, Kiran?

ROBERTS: Ted Rowlands reporting for us. How do did he get that special Utah duty? I want to get that one of these days.

Which star staked his claim to play Barack Obama in a movie about his life? Will Smith wants the job. The actor said if I am ordered by my commander in chief to star in a film about him, I will do my duty as an American. He's also attending the inaugural, says he wouldn't want to be president though.

And CNN's coverage of the inauguration begins this Saturday morning as we travel along with the Obama express. The historic train ride from Philly to Washington, D.C.. Every stop, every speech along the way beginning this Saturday morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. And don't forget, that AMERICAN MORNING's coverage of the inauguration starts early on Monday morning, 5:00 a.m. Eastern to be exact, live outside in the cold in Washington.

CHETRY: The most thermals in the morning.

ROBERTS: I got mine yesterday. Warm, not too bulky, you know? Something that will fit under a suit because I don't want to be wearing one of those parkas.

CHETRY: I got the hand warmers, too.

ROBERTS: You should see the goofy hat that I'm bringing.

CHETRY: You are wearing a hat?

ROBERTS: I'm not going to wear it, on the air at least, but I'm going to wear it sort of in between on-air segments.

CHETRY: Thanks so much for joining us on this AMERICAN MORNING. Have a great weekend and as we said, we will see you for the inauguration.

ROBERTS: Absolutely. Right now, here's CNN NEWSROOM with Heidi Collins